MURRIETA: Budget constraints halt story times as well as passport processing, holiday events.
Children's story hours, passport services and holiday programs will not be offered at the Murrieta Public Library through the end of the year.
Library representatives announced this week that passport services will halt beginning Monday, and Director of Library Services Loretta McKinney said Thursday that all extra programs typically offered during the fall and winter also will be cut.
The cuts are directly tied to the city's budget shortfall, McKinney said, adding that the removal of the programs means the number of hours the library is open each week will not have to be reduced. "Sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone," McKinney said.
Although she said she was "heart-broken" over having to make the cuts, she said the situation could be worse: "Passports, in the scheme of things, are not so important."
Programs that will be cut include Mother Goose and Me, the Wee Wigglers and Sleepy-Time Stories. Additionally, the Knitting Club and programs offered for Halloween and Thanksgiving also will not happen this year, McKinney said. But a Christmas program may still pan out, she said.
"We are just finishing up Summer Reading this week, so this is it," she said. "There's no more programs until we can regroup."
Like every department in the city, the library has had to cut expenses and dip into reserves to balance its $2 million operating budget, which had been reduced from $2.4 million. The Murrieta City Council approved pulling nearly $100,000 from the library's $2.6 million reserve account to balance the budget.
To help bridge an overall $2.5 million budget gap the city is grappling with this fiscal year, library employees agreed alongside all other city employees to take the equivalent of one unpaid day off every four weeks. In addition, vacant positions at the library will remain unfilled.
McKinney said that between the vacant positions and the furlough hours employees are taking, the library is losing 140 manpower hours each week. And with as many as 1,200 people using the library each day, the employees who remain are left to handle as many as 570 books or materials a day.
On Friday, as people browsed through the library shelves and tinkered on the computers, the news that programs would end was met with resignation.
"Oh, that sucks," said Laura Roemmele, a Murrieta mother who browsed the children's books with her 2-year-old son. "Does it really take that much time to train someone to read a book to kids?"